Rossford Fire & Rescue Department
What you need to know about the leading cause of poisoning deaths in America.
What is carbon monoxide and who is at risk?
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, deadly gas. Because you can't see, taste or smell it, carbon monoxide can kill you before you know it's there.
Everyone is at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Experts believe however, that individuals with greater oxygen requirements such as unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people with coronary or respiratory problems are at greater risk.
Why is carbon monoxide so dangerous?
The great danger of carbon monoxide is it's attraction to hemoglobin in the bloodstream. CO is breathed in through the lungs and bonds with hemoglobin in the blood, displacing the oxygen cells need to function. When CO is present in the air, it rapidly accumulates in the blood, forming a toxic compound known as carboxyhemoglobin (COHb).
Carboxyhemoglobin causes symptoms similar to the flu, such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizzy spells, confusion and irritability. As levels of COHb increase, vomiting, loss of consciousness and eventually brain damage or death can result.
Where does carbon monoxide come from?
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion, present whenever fuel is burned. It is produced by common home appliances, such as gas or oil furnaces, refrigerators or clothes dryers, water heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills, gas ranges, wood burning stoves and space heaters. Fumes from automobiles also contain carbon monoxide and can enter a home through walls or doorways if a car is left running in an attached garage.
All of these sources can contribute to a CO problem in the home. If a home is vented properly and is free from appliance malfunctions, air pressure fluctuations or airway blockages, carbon monoxide will most likely be safely vented to the outside. But in today's energy efficient homes this is frequently not the case. Insulation meant to keep warm air in during the winter months and cool air in during the summer months can trap CO-polluted air in a home year-round. Furnace heat exchangers can crack, vents can become blocked, inadequate air supply for combustion appliances can cause conditions known as backdrafting or reverse stacking, which can force contaminated air back into the home.
How can I protect myself and my family from carbon monoxide poisoning?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector per household, near the sleeping area. A second detector near the home's heat source provides extra protection. Choose an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listed detector that sounds an audible alarm.
In addition to installing carbon monoxide detectors, consumers should regularly inspect and service potential problem sources of carbon monoxide.
Checklist: Where to look for problem sources of carbon monoxide in the home
A forced air furnace is frequently the source of leaks and should be carefully inspected.
Check all venting systems to the outside, including flues and chimneys for cracks, corrosion, holes, debris or blockages. Animals and birds can build nests in chimneys, preventing gases from escaping.
Check all other appliances that use flammable fuels such as natural gas, oil, wood or kerosene.
Be sure space heaters are properly vented. Unvented space heaters that use a flammable fuel such as Kerosene can release carbon monoxide into the home.
Barbecue grills should never be operated indoors. Stove tops or ovens that operate on flammable fuels should not be used to heat a residence.
Check fireplaces for closed, blocked or bent flues, soot and debris.
Check the clothes dryer vent opening outside the house for lint.
A sticking thermostat can keep the furnace running constantly, depleting the oxygen supply inside the house. This can lead to "backdrafting".
In multiple family dwellings where living spaces share walls and pipes, carbon monoxide from one unit may go into a neighboring space through floor boards, cracks or underneath doors.
If a home has an attached garage, carbon monoxide produced by car exhaust can leak into the house. This is especially a problem for home mechanics who may run the car engine frequently for periods of time - even if the garage door is left open.
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